Nkosi: Out of jail but back at his books

Former Pan Africanist Congress activist John Nkosi, who was released last week with Govan Mbeki and three other Robben Island prisoners, does not seem excited about his freedom after serving 24 years of a life sentence.

Nkosi spent the better part of Wednesday, the sixth day of his release, engrossed in books – a common scene in his Robben Island prison cell at this time of the year, with exams scheduled. He has been reading for a BSc degree.

The Weekly Mail found Nkosi in a tiny room at the back of a house opposite his parents' Atteridgeville home. Between his own studies, he has been assisting a young university student to prepare for exams. As he is left with exams in two modules to complete his degree – computer science and information systems – and the first of the two tests is scheduled for today, he was reluctant to leave his swotting to be interviewed.

In any case, he said, he did not understand why he should be interviewed. "Unlike Zizi" (as Mbeki was called by inmates close to him on the island) "who is a leader, I'm just an ordinary prisoner," he said. He added that he did not deserve the publicity that characterised Mbeki's release. His plans for the future: "I have none," he said, moving towards the door so he could continue studying.

Nkosi was sentenced in the Pretoria Supreme Court to life imprisonment in 1963 with five co-accused, whose sentences ranged between five years and life imprisonment found guilty of plotting to overthrow the state by violent means. He is one of two PAC lifers who refused to sign the Botha "forswear violence" conditional release offer in 1985. The other one is Jeff Masemola who is still serving his life sentence in Johannesburg prison.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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